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Part 1: Chapter One

The sky was a beautiful mess of black ink. It had spilled across a paper-thin world. Light escaped through holes made by angels so God could look down upon His creation.

The father laughed and called his son a little idiot. The earth was round and the universe incomprehensible. There was gravity and galaxies and light-years and didn’t they teach this shit at school? His father fondly smacked his son’s head, then staggered off towards the house while pointing with his beer bottle at the stars and saying what they were looking at was the past. The light they were seeing took millions of years to reach Earth. For all they knew the universe was dead. The breaking news hadn’t reached them yet.

The boy stared with confused wonder into the blackness until he awoke to the sound of birds. The sky was blue, almost white, with a hint of yellow. Crystals of dew were on the top of his sleeping bag. He lay still, listening to the silence, the morning calm, waiting for the world to end. But nothing happened. He was alive.

Unlike his sister, always pretending, playing dead. Her antics had made him laugh. She’d made up ghost stories too, scaring them both before abandoning him for the house to sleep in her warm bed. It was another day. Dead was what happened to their grandmother. Her words a faint memory like last night’s stars. She had told them her face had once been as smooth as porcelain, like the head of the doll tucked beside him. He rubbed at the chipped scar on her cheek to comfort them both, but it only made him feel worse. For he had broken his promise to protect her.

The sun was quivering over the trees like a lost balloon drifting upwards to reach the center of the sky, having almost made it, before his mother’s first scream of the day. It burst the silence. His father shouting back. They fought like raccoons, clawing and screeching. He pulled the nylon flap over his head and inched deeper into the warmth of his sleeping bag and hugged the doll. Her body was soft like a pillow. Only her head was fragile.

She was Mira, named after the mythical princess of wonder and visions. And when he dreamed Mira would be there, to protect him. Never ordinary, but magical. Her painted lips told him about angels, warned him of dragons, and took him to places unseen by others. Where the animals lived. Not the kind his father killed, but the ones who hid on the other side of the world, invisible to humans.

Their pink eyes appeared first. He saw the shape of their furry bodies. Rabbits huddled in the darkness. Their ears turned upward and alerted. Their whiskered mouths trying to tell him something. Then a door slammed.

The boy’s head emerged cautiously, peering out from the hole in the ground. From far away he watched his father moving within the shadows, banging into chairs and rummaging through trash cans. The sun had fallen in the sky. It was behind the arms of an oak tree. The voice of his sister was faint, coming from inside the house.

He closed his eyes and prayed for God to make him invisible. Dappled sunlight fell upon him through the rustling leaves that clung to branches. His cheek touched the cool grass. Its damp green scent flooding his nostrils as he slid beneath the surface to muffle the noise of clanging bottles.

The rabbits were friendly. Their eyes sympathetic. The eyes of his grandmother, his aunt, his teacher, the neighbor who came to the door when the noise from their house erupted into violence. They were urging him to enter another hole that went deeper. There was no time to hesitate. They were gesturing, Hurry!

The explosion startled him. He jerked upright, brushing flecks of wet dirt off his face. On the ground nearby lay the remains of a squirrel. Half its head was blown off. Across his sleeping bag were particles of fur and blood.

Footsteps shook the ground. The rifle barrel moved recklessly in the direction of his head. His father flicked the headless animal into the woods with the tip of the gun. His tears only made it worse. His father telling him to stop whining and be a man. Dogs ate dogs, the weak inherited shit, and he’d better learn that fast.

The boy was told to get up and go inside the house. He tried to hide Mira but his father saw the doll, poking it with the gun barrel. As he walked barefoot across the crabgrass, the boy clutched Mira to his chest. His father followed close behind asking him if the doll was his sister’s, asking why he played with dolls, asking what the hell he wanted to be – a boy or girl?

The boy looked for help. His twin sister was nowhere in sight, in hiding too or off playing with friends. He could see his mother slumped in an armchair inside the house facing the television.

Demanding answers, the father grasped and tugged the boy’s long hair. Male or fe-male? Because if he wanted to act like a girl, to be like his sister – it could be arranged.

From one pull of the trigger.

Flung around, forced to face his father, he was pushed against a picnic table. Held by the throat, the boy felt the gun barrel pushing through the open fly of his pajamas. The cold muzzle pressed against his flesh and he screamed.

The boy lost his grip, letting go of Mira, and watched in horror as the doll’s face struck the red bricks and shattered to pieces.

Black ink and stars gushed from his head.

Chapter Two